January 12

Augusta’s old Colonial Theater has new champion

A developer and a nonprofit group are seeking public input.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The future of the dilapidated Colonial Theater at 139 Water St. looks a lot brighter.

click image to enlarge

Colonial Shadows: A bicyclist pedals through a patch of late afternoon sunshine in front of the Colonial Theater in March 2012 on Water Street in downtown Augusta.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Richard “Dick” Parkhurst, who has successfully redeveloped property just a block away, told city councilors last week he hopes to renovate the building, where movie theater operations ended in 1969, and which appeared in danger of being razed some 30 years later.

Parkhurst, of Readfield, who created luxury, loft-style apartments on the upper floors of the almost-150-year-old former Chernowsky’s clothing building on Water Street, said he would act as construction manager for the renovation work for the nonprofit group Colonial Theater Inc., which owns the property.

“It’s not going to be my money; it’s going to be my time,” Parkhurst said. He said the renovations could begin as soon as this spring.

“As soon as I can get warm enough in there and get the codes people in there, I intend to set up an office and be there on a daily basis.” Parkhurst said. “It’s a three-year project that could take six years if I can’t get the people behind me fast enough.”

He informally outlined his plan at Thursday’s informational council meeting and received unanimous spoken support from the seven councilors present.

Parkhurst is working with the Downtown Alliance as well as Colonial Theater Inc. The groups have scheduled a public discussion for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 13 in the gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Gannett Building, at 331 Water St.

He said he’s already done a straw poll asking people what they’d like to see done with the building.

“The key thing that’s missing downtown right now is a cultural center,” Parkhurst said. “We have a building that would be a beautiful cultural center.”

Parkhurst, an owner of Oakes and Parkhurst Glass in Manchester and Stained Glass Express in Waterville at Railroad Square, isn’t the only Parkhurst investing in downtown Augusta. His son Tobias bought and renovated two buildings, also on Water Street.

“It’s a challenge being a merchant in downtown right now,” said Steve Pecukonis, Augusta downtown manager and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, who also addressed councilors Thursday. “One thing they need is more people in downtown right now, more shoppers, more diners.” He said redeveloping the building into a theater, cultural arts center and meeting facility would attract more people.

“It’s something that could be a major shot in the arm,” Pecukonis said.

Larry Fleury, president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance and Colonial Theater Inc., told councilors, “We believe there’s a whole lot of community support to fund this project, and if we can put a few lease deals together so there’s some long-term income stream for this property, it can be very viable.”

All three men said they were anxious to gather ideas from the community for the property redevelopment.

Councilors praised the Parkhursts, who were both at the council meeting, for their work on Water Street, and Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis said, “I caution everyone not to underestimate Dick Parkhurst.”

The Colonial Theater building has had a number of problems, and been the subject of prior renovation efforts that stalled.

A 2009 engineer’s report said bricks on the front parapet were loose and in danger of falling and potentially hitting pedestrians passing below. The issue was apparently rectified because the long-standing scaffolding has been removed.

In 2010 renovation costs were estimated at $2.5 million to $4.8 million, and a tour of the building at that time showed that supporters had made strides cleaning out pigeon droppings and other debris from the riverside building. However, a gaping hole remained in the wooden floor, water was leaking into the building in multiple locations, and a small tree had grown out of the north wall.

Parkhurst said Sunday that he has been through the building and thinks the earlier estimate is high.

“I’m pretty realistic about costs, and I’m going to ask some good companies in the Augusta area to help us out,” he said. “Well-meaning people have attempted to save the building. Where they’ve fallen by the wayside is they don’t have construction experience to get behind and make it happen. This is going to happen. I don’t take a project that’s not going to succeed.”

He also noted his successful rehabilitation of a former meat-packing plant at Railroad Square in Waterville. Now he has eight tenants in that building, he said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631 badams@centralmaine.com Twitter: @betadams
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